History of religion

How and why did religious cults and rituals come about?

(Published in GralsWelt 54/2009)

Religious scholars assume that religions have accompanied cultural development since the beginning of human history.

Religious feeling is apparently an essential part of the specifically human characteristics that express it e.g. B. found in cults, rituals, myths, art, music, education, etc. Religiousness is also one of the basic human drives that shape society and its culture. Religiousness therefore appears to be an important factor that fundamentally distinguishes humans from other living beings.

"Cult should be the endeavor, which has become form, to allow something earthly incomprehensible to be somehow absorbed by the earthly mind."

Archaeological finds also suggest that religiosity found expression in cultic acts or rituals a hundred thousand years ago.

Paleolithic people probably felt, just as we do today, in special situations, to give expression to their experiences. First through spontaneous actions such as thanking you for being saved from danger, asking for health, reconciliation of the soul of a hunted animal, etc. which should help to at least express the new phase of life or the force of the inexplicable, one's own overwhelmedness, if one could not understand it. That was a survival-friendly substitute for understanding. So there was z. B. 35,000 years ago the Neanderthals were buried in which flowers were placed in the grave of the deceased. One of the oldest customs of mankind! It shows feelings of affection and a sense of beauty.

It can be seen from such finds that there may have been some kind of spiritual experience that was expressed with such actions (perhaps the belief in continued life after death), but religious ideas, beliefs, myths are from grave goods and other stone or bone finds difficult to decipher. We therefore know next to nothing about the religious ideas of Paleolithic people. Reliable information about the religious experience of our ancestors only comes with the invention of writing.

Since we humans have the need to bring order to our environment, we began to schematize the initially spontaneous religious acts. This is how the numerous (not only religious) Ritualswhich have been handed down and still shape our lives today. Most of the time, these rituals are performed without thinking about what they stand for (example: shaking hands).

Important phases of life were accompanied by appropriate rites or ceremonies: For birth, growing up, marriage, illness, death, etc. there are appropriate rites in all known cultures, which are often performed by specialists (priests, shamans).

One can therefore assume that religious rituals are very old. They have changed forms and contents in history (e.g. Ishtar or Diana to Mother of God); but only at first glance are they very different in the various religions. A closer look reveals that today's rituals still have a very similar purpose to their ancient models many millennia ago. Although people's problems have changed externally, they have essentially remained the same for thousands of years.

It should also be noted that during the longest period of human development there was no separation between religious and state legislation. Religions set the codes of morality and behavior.

Ancient humans are believed to have had a closer association with nature and sought to live in harmony with these essential servants of God. That can only succeed if you know and understand their tasks and objectives.

Even the desire or attempt to establish contact with these beings that are invisible to us today was probably ritualized sooner or later. So z. B. the oracle interpretation widespread among ancient peoples, in which the "gods" should be consulted, in this direction.

A lively echo of this striving for contact with higher worlds can be found to this day in the veneration of saints by Christian churches. The so-called "saints" are now responsible for certain areas (growth in the fields, thriving of cattle, fire hazard, water shortage, diseases and much more), which were previously probably attributed to beings (ancient gods). They too are called with the help of rituals (prayers, lighting candles, processions, offerings today mostly in the form of money) and asked for help.

In the further development of the religious impulses emerged Cults. These consisted of rituals, sacrifices, prayers, communal meals, sacred music, cultic dance, fasting, etc. People came together at a given time to practice cult. In the religions of all peoples there are also spring festivals, processions, harvest festivals, celebrations for the summer and winter solstice, etc.

Such rituals were and are of great importance for group formation in societies or religious communities. In the past millennia, a social group (family, village, town, country) usually practiced the same cults or had the same religion. Almost all fellow citizens met for the regular prayer hours and celebrated their festivities together throughout the year.

Today this commonality is largely absent. Countries and states become pure communities of convenience in which egoism dominates. Sunday speeches by politicians who invoke public spirit cannot replace the common ethical-religious basis.

The Systematisation and regulation of cults and their rituals led over the centuries to priesthoods with a hierarchical structure. The priests then usually developed strict, complicated theologies that very few believers understand. In addition, there are not infrequently dress regulations, fasting rules, food and hygiene regulations, special holidays that characterize a religious group or that deliberately separate them from other groups. During migration, members of such religious communities, who exclude themselves through their behavior, often become outsiders who are viewed with concern and, as a result, with suspicion.

The development Regulated religions burdened with regulations brings the danger that the spontaneity, the inner experience, the personally shaped religiosity is stifled, and the cults solidify in a finely worked out, often complicated, perhaps splendid, but only external form and lose their lively, spiritual content. As it says in the Bible: "Because the letter kills, but the spirit gives life". (2 Cor. 3,6).

This tendency to solidification was often recognized and regretted. In almost all religions there were and are efforts to break through the frozen forms and penetrate to the actual, spiritual content of religion through inner deepening, mysticism, ecstasy, awakening movements, reformatory efforts, etc. By the - mostly conservative - leading personalities of the religious communities or churches, such approaches - often spontaneous and mostly difficult to control - are usually not welcomed, perhaps dismissed as too "charismatic", or even heretic.